Spend two weeks exploring mountainous landscapes in a country that's equally famous for its volcanoes and rainforest. From Quito's colonial city center to the high-elevation hacienda refuge on Cotopaxi, you'll trek through historic sites and stunning nature. Spot rare Andean condors, haggle for goods at a mountain market, summit volcanoes, and more. 

Highlights

  • Tour the UNESCO-designated Quito Old Town
  • Visit the Middle of the Earth equator site
  • Hike in Cotopaxi National Park
  • Spot herds of vicuñas on the plateaus
  • Trek through volcanoes in Chimborazo National Park

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival to Quito Quito
Day 2 Quito Historic Center, Panecillo Hill, & Middle of the World Tour Quito
Day 3 Quito to Otavalo, Market Visit & Cuicocha Hike Otavalo
Day 4 Hike Imbabura Volcano from Otavalo & Return to Quito Quito
Day 5 Condor Trek - Day One Papallacta
Day 6 Condor Trek - Day Two Papallacta
Day 7 Condor Trek Day Three & Return to Quito Quito
Day 8 Quito to Illiniza North & Trek to La Virgen Machachi
Day 9 Summit Illiniza North Peak & Transfer to Machachi Machachi
Day 10 Machachi to Cotopaxi & Glacier Trek, Transfer to Baños Baños
Day 11 Baños: Waterfall Route, Cable Car, Pailon del Diablo Waterfall, & Casa del Arbol Baños
Day 12 Drive from Baños to Mt. Chimborazo & Overnight in Riobamba Riobamba
Day 13 Riobamba to Quilotoa Lake & Afternoon Hike or Kayak Quilotoa
Day 14 Transfer to Quito & Flight Home  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival to Quito

View of Quito and the Cotopaxi Volcano
View of Quito and the Cotopaxi Volcano

Welcome to Quito, the capital of Ecuador! Arrive at the Mariscal Sucre International Airport (UIO), where your driver will meet you to transfer to your accommodation in the city center, a one-hour trip. Along the way, you'll get a short introduction into Quito´s history and a quick briefing on the next day's activities.

The entire city of Quito is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, standing at an altitude of 9,350ft (2,850m). It welcomes visitors with its picturesque plazas situated between mountain peaks. The city has an abundance of market stands, shamanistic healers, and fourth-generation hat makers, as well as a vibrant and sophisticated culinary and nightlife scene.

Day 2: Quito Historic Center, Panecillo Hill, & Middle of the World Tour

Quito: Governmental Palace
Quito: Governmental Palace

The human occupation of Quito dates back thousands of years. Prior to the arrival of Spanish conquistadores, the main cultures in the area were the Quitus, as well as the Inca, whose empire spread across vast stretches of South America. The city was colonized by the Spanish and recognized as a city in the mid-16th century. In 1978, together with Kraków in Poland, the entire city became the first UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

After breakfast at the hotel, visit the old town and meander down romantic narrow streets to see the colonial  Churches of San Fransisco, La Compañia, and other historical landmarks. 

This visit is followed by a short stop at the top of El Panecillo Hill where the impressive statue of the Virgin Mary is located. It's a great place for photos of panoramic city views. 

In the afternoon, visit the Equator Monument, which highlights the exact location of the equatorial line according to the Franco-Spanish mission that determined its approximate location. It's also the location of the Ethnographical Museum that showcases the indigenous culture and ethnography of Ecuador.

After a full day, return to your hotel.

Day 3: Quito to Otavalo, Market Visit & Cuicocha Hike

Hiking near the lagoon
Hiking near the lagoon

Depart from Quito in the morning and drive north to the city of Cayambe. Stop for some delicious bizcocho pastries before continuing to the town of Otavalo. The city is the home of the well-known indigenous market where artisans come to sell colorful textiles and other traditional goods. Snack on fruits and other snacks while you browse the stalls for paintings, carvings, handpainted bowls, and much more. 

Enjoy street food for lunch (try the salted mango or fritada con mote—fried pork with cooked corn, then continue to the nearby town of Cotacachi for some free time and more shopping (the town is famous for its leather products). Stretch your legs with a hike around the crater lagoon of Cuicocha. On the trail, your guide will explain to you the high altitude flora and fauna and the history of the once active volcano. Alternatively, enjoy a short walk and take some photos, or ride in a boat around the two islands. 

Return to Otavalo for the night.

Day 4: Hike Imbabura Volcano from Otavalo & Return to Quito

Imbabura Volcano
Imbabura Volcano

Start your day with an early breakfast in Otavalo, then head northeast to Imbabura, a long-extinct volcano located about a half-hour drive from Otavalo. 

This once glaciated peak use to be a vital ice source for local villagers, who would climb high onto the mountain to get ice from the glacier. The volcano's gentle slopes it the perfect place for an acclimatization climb for those who plan to tackle the higher peaks in Ecuador. 

Your adventures on this day begin very early in the morning to reach the summit by the afternoon. Trek along the base of the volcano, reaching the peak after a 6-hour moderate hike. Celebrate your arrival at the top with a summit selfie, then head back to the volcano's base. 

Return to Quito, a 2.5-hour drive away, in the evening.

Day 5: Condor Trek - Day One

Laguna Tumiguina
Laguna Tumiguina

Start your day with a hotel pickup in Quito, then head to El Tambo, which is located at 10,800 ft (3,300 m) on the highlands of the Papallacta Lagoon. From here, mules will transport your heavy equipment and luggage. The four-hour trek heads south-west to the lower plains, near the Laguna Tumiguina volcano lake.

Camp here tonight at nearly 12,000 ft of elevation (3,650 m).

Day 6: Condor Trek - Day Two

Trekking near Antisana
Trekking near Antisana

Get an early start today for the trek's longest stretch, a 5-6 hour hike through the mountains. 

You'll start by climbing some hills, then cross through a polylepis forest (a high-altitude shrub that grows only in the Andes). You'll have beautiful views the entire day as you continue to your next campsite on the Santa Lucia Highlands, on the northwestern side of the Antisana Volcano

From here, take in the spectacular views of the volcano, and keep an eye out for condors high in the air. Camp here at 13,800 ft (4,200 m).

Day 7: Condor Trek Day Three & Return to Quito

Keep an eye out for condors
Keep an eye out for condors

Today is your last day of trekking near the volcano. You'll ascend to 14,100 ft (4,300 m) to the plains of the Antisana Volcano, where you'll get clear views of the mountain's glaciers. From here descend to lower elevations and meet your car, which will transport you back to Quito, a two-hour drive to the west.

As you trek down through the plateaus, keep an eye out for wildlife, including the famous condors.

Day 8: Quito to Illiniza North & Trek to La Virgen

Trek to Illiniza North
Trek to Illiniza North

Get an early start from Quito this morning, heading by car towards Machachi. Continue up to the highlands of Hacienda, to El Refugio, located at 9,200 ft (2,800 m). Here, you'll find the Illiniza Reserve Control Point. From here, start your hike towards the upper hills at the base of the North Illiniza, heading towards La Virgen.

Camp here tonight at 12,800 ft (3,900 m).

Day 9: Summit Iliniza North Peak & Transfer to Machachi

North and South Illiniza peaks
North and South Illiniza peaks

You'll start your day before the sun rises today, at 2:00 AM. Check your equipment, then begin the three-hour trek towards the saddle at the base of the South and North Illiniza Peaks. From this point, the climb to the summit takes another three hours. 

Once you reach the summit, celebrate with photos of the views and take in the mountain landscapes. Descend back down to the saddle, then trek back to the Hacienda where your transport will meet you and transfer you to Machachi for the night.

Day 10: Machachi to Cotopaxi & Glacier Trek, Transfer to Baños

Snowpack in the mountains
Snowpack in the mountains

From Machachi, drive south to Cotopaxi National Park. Along the way, stop at Limpiopungo Lagoon to take in the panoramic mountain views. 

Continue to the start of the trek, located at 15,000 ft (4,600 m). Hike for an hour or so, making your way to the Rivas Hut, which sits on the northwestern side of the volcano. From here trek to the nearest glaciers to see the massive ice flows up close, then continue to Baños City where you'll enjoy a hot meal, a relaxing shower, and good night's sleep.

Day 11: Baños: Waterfall Route, Cable Car, Pailon del Diablo Waterfall, & Casa del Arbol

Devil´s Pot Waterfall
Devil´s Pot Waterfall

After breakfast, visit the beautiful waterfall route, which highlights some of Ecuador's incredible waterfalls. For a better view of the scenery, take a ride on the Tarabita cable car. 

Enjoy lunch on your own in town, then visit the Casa de Arbol and unleash your inner kid on the Swing At the End of the World. 

Day 12: Drive from Baños to Mt. Chimborazo & Overnight in Riobamba

Vicuñas on the Ecuadorian plateaus
Vicuñas on the Ecuadorian plateaus

In the morning begin your car ride toward the city of Riobamba. Stop at Ecuador's highest mountain, Chimborazo, then enter the park to enjoy some beautiful hiking in the area. If you're lucky you may even see a few vicuñas on the plateau landscapes. 

After your hike, continue the trip to Riobamba, arriving in time for dinner. Spend the night in town.

Day 13: Riobamba to Quilotoa Lake & Afternoon Hike or Kayak

Quilotoa Lake
Quilotoa Lake

Enjoy breakfast in Riobamba, then begin your drive through the Andes to Quilotoa Lagoon, a lake located inside of the crater of the Quilotoa Volcano. Find a family-run cafe for lunch, then choose between hiking around the crater rim or kayaking on the lake for a quiet afternoon. 

In the evening, return to your hotel and relax.

Day 14: Transfer to Quito & Flight Home

Quilotoa Lake
Quilotoa Lake

Transfer back to Quito (a 3-hour drive to the north), then head to the airport for your flight home.

Map

Map of Trekking in Ecuador's Highlands: Cotopaxi, Chimborazo, & More - 14 Days
Map of Trekking in Ecuador's Highlands: Cotopaxi, Chimborazo, & More - 14 Days